Japan Is Giving Away Abandoned Houses for Free

There are more than eight million vacant properties littered throughout Japan—and they're going dirt cheap.

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Dec 4 2018, 2:14am

Image via Wikimedia user Cy21, CC licence 3.0

Good news, struggling millennial homebuyer: you’re moving to Japan. Why? Because the sushi’s fresh, the weather’s nice, and the houses are free.

An increasing number of unoccupied properties around the country are being listed for sale on online databases known as “akiya banks”—“akiya” translating to “vacant house”—with thousands of homes in relatively good condition being offered up for either nothing or next to nothing, Insider reports. Prices on one particular akiya database don’t go any higher than a maximum of 30 million yen (about $360,000 Australian dollars), while many properties are listed under “gratis transfer” for the sum of literally zero yen. Pay a few taxes and some agent commission fees, and the place is yours.

It’s all part of a government scheme to address the country’s unique housing crisis. A 2013 government report found that there were more than eight million abandoned dwellings littered throughout Japan, many of them located in regional areas or in the outskirts of major cities, The Japan Times reported. Fujitsu Research Institute has projected that that number will grow to more than 20 million by 2033—making up almost a third of all homes nationwide.

It’s understood that Japan’s akiya glut is due in part to the nation’s dramatically ageing population. As more and more Japanese citizens either kick the bucket or shuffle into retirement homes, an increasing number of houses around the country are being left empty without anyone to live in them. There aren’t enough young people around to fill the void, and those that are present are taking longer to have families.

Another factor is superstition. Properties associated with tragedies such as suicide, murder, or "lonely deaths" are thought to bring bad luck in Japanese culture, making it harder to sell them on to a new owner and further feeding the surfeit of vacant properties that are slowly falling into disrepair around the country. In some cases governments are even offering subsidies for those who take over and renovate old properties . In other cases, the homes aren’t technically “free” until you’ve rented them out for a number of years and the property has subsequently been deemed yours, according to Japanese property blog Rethink Tokyo.

Still, even with these incentives in place, it’s widely agreed that the akiya problem in Japan is going to get worse before it gets better. And with supply at an all-time-high and demand at an all-time-low, the asking price for one’s very own terrace house continues to drop through the floor.

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